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Signs Your Houseplant Has Outgrown Its Plastic Pot (Since It Can't Stay In There Forever)

Last updated on August 30, 2022

The first thing people usually do after buying a new houseplant (besides stare at it lovingly while doing a happy dance) is place it—plastic pot and all—into a more decorative container.

And while it's fine to keep your plant in its plastic home for the time being, you won't want to leave it there forever.

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"Just about any time you buy a plant in the store and it's in the nursery pot, it probably wants to be repotted sooner than later," Maryah Greene, the plant expert and stylist behind Greene Piece, tells mbg.

The reason being that unless your plant was propagated and grown locally, it's likely been sitting in that pot for a while. Especially if comes from a large nursery (Costa Farms, Rocket Farms, and Altman Plants are some big names in the U.S.), there's a chance that quite a bit of time has passed since it was packaged, shipped, stocked on new shelves, and sold to you.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing; it just means your plant might already be close to outgrowing its home.

Greene recommends repotting it right away or within a few weeks, especially if you purchased it during peak summer growing season.

How to tell if you need to repot

There are a few signs that your plant needs to break up with its plastic pot.

For one, if you see roots popping up through the top of the soil or poking through the pot's drainage hole, it's a sign that it's pot-bound.

Its roots—whose job it is to absorb water and nutrients from the soil—have run out of room to grow outward.

Lightly pull your plant out of its plastic pot to confirm the pot-bound diagnosis: If the roots are pressed up to the edge of the soil and look like they're growing in a circle, it's definitely time for a new pot.

If your plant's leaves are drooping or starting to yellow, even though you're watering it properly, it's another sign that it's time to repot.

Gently shake it out of the plastic pot and shake off any loose soil so you're just left with the plant and its roots. Then put a shallow layer of new soil into a pot that is no more than 1 to 2 inches larger in diameter. Any bigger and too much extra dirt will be absorbing water around your plant, which could lead to issues down the line.

Your larger pot should also have a drainage hole at the bottom where water can escape. If it doesn't, put a shallow layer of pebbles or lava rocks down there to help with drainage. Then, plop your plant in, pack the soil around it tightly, and you're good to go.

Your plant should be OK in its new home for another year or so, until it needs a new pot.

Summary

If you see roots popping up through the top of the soil or poking through the pot's drainage hole, it's a sign that it needs to be repotted. If your plant's leaves are drooping or starting to yellow, that's also a sign that it's time to repot.
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The takeaway

Houseplants—they're just like us. They need room to grow and can get finicky when they're stuck in the same place for too long.

This is why you'll want to move your plant out of the plastic pot you bought it in, especially if you suspect that it's been in there a while.

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Emma Loewe
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director

Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.

Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.